Tag Archives: mystery

2019 Game Review Haiku, #11 – Storyseeker

A strange, quiet place
With talkers, whisperers, ghosts
Explore leisurely

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

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2019 Game Review Haiku, #7 – What Never Was

Loot grandpa’s attic
For journal entries, puzzles
Travel by magic

And we’re back with these little haikus  of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Return home to familial strangeness with Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1

I am one of those people that grew up in the ’90s reading those various More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books by Alvin Schwartz, and, yes, I was extremely disappointed when they got reissued with all new art, illustrations that did not immediately make your blood run cold and stay with you for years on end. One of my favorite short stories from these horror collections–favorite is actually a weird choice here, but I think you get what I mean–was “Harold,” which is mostly about two farmers mistreating their scarecrow and then getting their just desserts. Both the story and Stephen Gammell’s intro art for it have never left me, and I mention all this only because Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 features a scarecrow up to no good. Alas, it’s not as terrifying.

Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 is a horror-mystery, point-and-click adventure game where you must find the truth about your mother’s death. It’s free on Steam…well, this first chapter is, and it should only take you about a half hour to get through it. The police came to the conclusion that Helen Lancaster’s suicide, where she gutted herself with a kitchen knife, was due to the grief of losing her husband. However, her son, Clint Lancaster, doesn’t believe a woman as deeply religious as her mother would do such a thing and plans to investigate. As you further explore your childhood farmhouse, you’ll discover that nothing is as it seems; in fact, things are getting stranger by the minute.

Gameplay is fairly simple. You can use a mouse to click everything or use a controller…though I stuck with the keyboard mostly. Like, the up, down, left, right arrows and the enter key; I’m a relic. Item use and item combination is all automatic, which some people may like, but it results in a lot less thinking when it comes to solving puzzles. Oh, this cabinet door is stuck? I’ll just immediately use this cane from my dead grandfather to prop it open. No, no, don’t worry, I got this for you. I really didn’t want you to have to try out all the other items on it first. Again, it’s fine, if a little dumbed down. Also, a couple of items are tricky to spot, so there is a small amount of pixel hunting to deal with. Other than that, you are mostly exploring different rooms in the farmhouse and watching them change as you go, with your true goal being getting into the cellar.

Over the years, I’ve grown to dislike a many RPGMaker-made games. They all contain a similar look and menu UI, and, at first, I thought it was really neat and awesome, but I’ve grown tired of seeing the same pixel art and character portraits and start screens. It seems like the “new releases” tab on Steam, on any given day, contains at least one or two creations like this. I don’t know if Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 was made with RPGMaker, but it feels like it; that said, it has a better design to it, and I do like the small circle of light around Clint, which does obfuscate parts of the room you are exploring, leaving room for scares and surprises. The writing, while a little rote in places, does a good job of leading you along, revealing enough dribs and drabs about Clint’s parents for you to fill in the rest with your imagination.

According to the Steam page description, there are three endings to discover. I’m not sure if that is meant for Chapter 1 only or the series as a whole. Not exactly sure how different of an ending I could have conceived as I felt like I found every item and solved all the puzzles, but maybe there was something I missed. Oh well. Honestly, I would have preferred not to see the [redacted] at the end, but that’s me, an animal lover. Looks like Chapter 2 is available now, with more chapters to go down the road, but this didn’t draw me in enough to have me foaming at the mouth for more. I’ll leave Azurael’s Circle forever closed.

To escape Subject 13, Franklin Fargo must defeat Minesweeper

I purchased Subject 13 recently during Xbox’s Spring Sale for a couple of reasons: 1) it was cheap, coming it at a mighty low $2.80 2) it was billed as a traditional point-and click adventure game and 3) the graphics, from the few screenshots I saw, made it look pretty and mysterious and something akin to Myst, wherein there’s an island and puzzles to solve. I finished it off the other night feeling frustrated and dissatisfied, especially as I stubbornly felt the need to see it through, and I would not recommend it to anyone if, like me, the above reasons seem initially intriguing.

Subject 13 comes to us from French video game designer Paul Cuisset, though I’ll be honest and did not immediately recognize his name or work. Shame on me, as a fellow Paul. Evidently, he was the lead designer of Delphine Software International and the creator of Flashback, which is listed in the Guinness World Records as the best-selling French game of all time. That’s cool and all, but I’ve never played it and was way more jazzed to learn that he had a hand in making 1994’s mega-hit Shaq Fu, of which one day I’ll tell a story about. Still, the man has clearly been in the business for a while, and there have been some ups and downs; one of the more recent ups was Subject 13‘s successful Kickstarter back in 2014, which helped bring the game to phones, PC, and consoles.

Right, let’s get to it. Subject 13 opens up rather dramatically with a man named Franklin Fargo–no, really, that’s his first name and last name put together–attempting to off himself by driving his car into a river. However, as he begins to drown beneath the water, something happens and he is magically transported into an abandoned research facility. Here, a strange, disembodied robotic voice encourages him to use his special noggin to solve puzzles and make his way out of the compound. All righty then. Oh, and the robotic voice also refers Franklin as Subject 13 and refuses to answer many questions so right away you know something is fishy. It’s a decent bit of science fiction storytelling though it’s both predictable and under-delivered, with most of the details tucked away in hidden audio logs.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward stuff for adventure games, with Franklin exploring a small area or number of areas, picking up commonplace items, examining them up close, and using them either individually or combining them with others to solve puzzles, the majority of which are based around logic. Don’t be surprised to find yourself dealing with combination locks and slide puzzles and doing a bit of math on the side. It’s not The Witness, but few games are. I truly didn’t mind the puzzles, even if they never felt like they were natural in the world and clearly stuck out as something to do to slow progress, but a couple were extremely obtuse and resulted in me looking up solutions online to keep my momentum going.

Oh, and let me touch upon the final section of the game. Spoilers incoming…even though I kind of dropped a big one in this blog post’s title. After all your exploring and puzzle solving and chasing after holographic women, the only way out for Franklin Fargo…is through a game of Minesweeper. Now, it doesn’t immediately look like Minesweeper because of, y’know, copyright issues, but it’s the same idea nonetheless. And honestly, I’m not too bummed about this, because I enjoy a round or two or three of Minesweeper, but it shouldn’t be used as a final, climactic showdown. Don’t think too hard about the fact that this ancient device is guarding itself via a firewall based on Minesweeper. Also, there’s an Achievement tied to beating this part in under twenty, but the clunky look and nature of the beast means you need to play it slowly or start over again, and it’s the only Achievement I didn’t get for the game…so boo-hoo to that.

Here’s the hard truth–Subject 13 lacks polish and modern, friendly mechanics. It wasn’t designed to have them, but it needs them. I understand that this wants to call back to an era of gaming where adventuring was a little more imperceptive and up to the player to truly figure out, but some of that was left behind for a reason, to make the experience more inviting. For instance, moving the main character around is absolutely terrible, with Franklin strutting forward like a goalless gorilla, unable to make it up some steps or around a corner unless he approaches them from a very specific angle. A more traditional point-and-click interface would have worked better, especially when you often have to walk from one side of the screen to another, and it takes just long enough to have me reaching for me phone to check my email or the weather for tomorrow. Some items are extremely well hidden and, with no internal monologue from Franklin, I never even knew I was supposed to be looking for a bucket. Lastly, while the UI for your inventory is neat-looking, it never made it easy to pick up an item and compare it to another or, if you selected the wrong one, deselect it and try again; I felt like I was always fighting against the system.

I’m not all angry ogre, so here’s what I liked about Subject 13. The soundtrack is subtle and New Age-y, relies on futuristic synth-heavy tracks, but also enough soft sounds to lull you into a moody yet pleasantly relaxed atmosphere that doesn’t get in the way of exploring and solving puzzles. For testimonies, the game’s audio log collectibles, you can always see how many you have found in the chapter percentage-wise, as well as total, which I appreciated as I wanted to get them all in one go. Lastly, instead of “continue” the game uses “carry on” in its menu options, and that is so adorable I’m over here making large cat eyes and nodding enthusiastically.

I bought another game alongside Subject 13 during this sale, namely Anoxemia, and though it is not exactly the same type of game, I’m hoping I enjoy it much more than this, whenever it is that I get around to playing it. See, I’m not always good at immediately jumping into my purchases, though I did on this one and am unhappy. Or maybe I need to give Flashback a good swing–the original, not the 2013 remake version.

Blameless is ironically not without its faults

gd-final-thoughts-for-blameless

I don’t play many horror games. Honestly, I’d like to touch more, truly, but I have a hard time being the deciding factor of opening that creaky door and stepping into the dimly-lit room full of monsters with only a twig as my sole mean of defense. I’m thinking the last one I danced with was Silent Hill 2, some three years back, and I made a promise to play Silent Hill 3 last year around Halloween…but that never happened. There’s also Outlast, Siren: Blood Curse, and Lone Survivor, installed and waiting. They might be waiting for a long time. Heck, I even have that last named game ready to go in two different locations (laptop and PlayStation 3). Nah, the mood is never right, and by “the mood,” I naturally mean my mood.

So, what pushed me over the edge to play Blameless, which is totally a horror thing? Well, besides being completely free to play, I saw via HowLongToBeat that it was a quick experience, with completion times ranging in the fifty- to sixty-minutes range. “I can handle that,” I told myself, clicking the “play” button and sitting up straighter in my chair. I also politely asked my cat Timmy not to make any sudden jumps on to my lap. Surprisingly, he behaved.

All right, here’s the rundown on Blameless. It’s a mysterious first-person adventure focusing primarily on solving puzzles in the vein of collect specific item and use it on another specific item correctly to make magic happen. Point and click, but with more exploration. You are an architect dude–maybe you have a name, but I can’t recall what it is–investigating a potential project house currently under a lot of construction. Alas, once there, you get bopped in the head by the man you agreed to meet and left in a locked room. As you make your escape, you discover more acts of violence. Your best chance is to get out of there and call the cops.

Visually, the game has a decent look. It’s no PT, but it makes a valiant attempt. I mean, it’s a house full of clutter and the remnants of bereft construction workers. I’m not expecting beauty from the tool benches, garbage bins, and unused materials, but it does all seem to look as it should, and that fact helps create a realistic, believable environment. That makes poking around in its darker corners all the more unnerving. The voice acting, unfortunately, is sub-par and really jarring, and the puzzles never become more complicated than finding the right item to use where it is supposed to be used. I will give the developer props for making me use a set of keys twice and actually take them out of the first padlock manually; I mean, that’s how you’d do it in real life, but a lot of games would have automated that process so you wouldn’t stall moving forward.

Unfortunately, Blameless broke in a big, big way right near the end, to the point that I had to abandon the whole sojourn and look up how it ended via YouTube. Ironically, I was almost there, only a few footsteps from the conclusion myself. Oh well. For some reason, after a spoiler thing happened and I failed to remain alive, the game reloaded me into a previous checkpoint, except all the walls of the room were missing and I couldn’t interact with anything. Basically, I killed the scripting and found myself unable to move forward. I tried re-loading the same checkpoint multiple times to only end up at the same roadblock. For a free game that took me only about an hour to get through and wasn’t anything I’d shout from the mountaintops about, I can’t be too annoyed, though it certainly cemented my thoughts about its quality right then and there. The ending tries to stuff a somewhat unbelievable twist in there and really force it down your throat; I wasn’t a fan.

Let’s hope whatever the next scary game I play at least lets me complete it.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #12 – 9:05

2017-gd-games-completed-905-am-capture

Bad night, worse morning
First things first–bathroom routine
Drop items, use words

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #79 – Blue Toad Murder Files, Episode 1 “Little Riddle’s Deadly Dilemma”

2016-gd-games-completed-blue-toad-murder-files-episode-1

Little Riddle, home
To a murder, mystery
Solve puzzles, not crime

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.